Introducing the third installment of Deep Dive and this week’s theme: desire, specifically delusions of desire. These stories all portray different idiosyncrasies following one’s pursuit of desire. You’ll be blown by the distinct ways these characters quench their inner yearnings and their worlds change in turn. Whether it be lust, attraction, passion or love, these tales range from raunchy and surreal to quiet yet seductive. These films aren’t “romantic” per se, but they do play on the weaknesses of romance which come and go in many colors and shades.
THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA
dir. Trān Anh Hùng / 1993
“When the cherry trees change, they still resemble cherry trees.”
“The Scent of Green Papaya” is a lush and visually soothing film that sweetly explores desire and curiosity. During antebellum Vietnam (mid-1900s), Mui (Lu Man San), a 10-year-old orphan, is hired as a servant for a merchant family in Saigon. She is diligent and devoted to her work, impressing her employers and earning the love and affection usually reserved for a daughter. Even when the family suffers from unprecedented economic hardships, Mui remains loyal to working and serving them. When her job is no longer feasible, Mui (Tran Nu Yen-Khe), now 10 years older, is hired by their family friend Khuyen (Vuong Hoa Hoi), a renowned pianist whom Mui has secretly crushed on for years. Mui’s committed behavior doesn’t change, but Khuyen’s sudden attraction to Mui makes him rethink his relationship with the servant. “The Scent of Green Papaya” employs very little dialogue and instead relies on sparkling cinematography, sensual still shots and peaceful sounds to tell a story. There are fascinating extreme close-ups of mindless frogs, dripping plants, working ants and green fruits that parallel Mui’s intrigue by her surroundings. Even as a 20-year-old, she is captivated by nature’s beauty. Her innocence doesn’t lead her into anything scandalous but rather motivates her flirtatious attitude, as seen when she sneakily borrows Khuyen’s girlfriend’s scarlet lipstick. When caught red-handed, Mui retreats to her subservient role and is flushed with embarrassment. But Khuyen finds Mui to be the only person who understands him, even when she doesn’t comprehend the pressures of his virtuosic career. “The Scent of Green Papaya” is a filmic embodiment of poetic desire. It never rushes too fast into anything messy but is still quite extravagant in sharing a patient love tale.
I AM LOVE
dir. Luca Guadagnino / 2009
“Being part of a couple is as nice as being alone.”
A Russian woman marries into a wealthy Italian family in Milan. What becomes of her identity once her matriarchal duties have outgrown her? Guadagnino’s “I Am Love” doesn’t fully reveal that but does assert its consequences. Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) boasts a proud life as a housewife to a wealthy Italian empresario. She’s got a lavish palace to call home and three gorgeous college-bound children. At a birthday dinner party, the elder patriarch Edoardo Recchi (Gabriele Ferzetti) announces the heirs to his entrepreneurial throne: Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), Emma’s husband, and their son Edo (Flavio Parenti). If Emma experiences any sense of joy and pride right now, it’s severely undercut by how much she fakes to fit in: Her Italian is heavily marked by her Russian accent, and her presence as a dutiful housekeeper goes increasingly unnoticed. She never lingers long at social or family gatherings but chooses to repose in her room. In many ways, Emma never considers herself a true member of the family. Life then begins to take a different course when Emma meets Edo’s friend, the gifted young chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabriellini). The two share an instant spark of allure that undeniably pushes them — and by default, all the Recchis — into a family disaster. The more she indulges in her unwavering desire for Antonio, the more Emma unfurls her Russian authenticity: Antonio prepares her favorite Russian meals that remind her of her younger self. When forced to reckon with the realities of her Italian life, Emma is now far more sensible with her character and in touch with the identity she once shed to conform with the dynasty. When her daughter confesses her sexuality, she is neither appalled nor distant but proud. And even when her affair leads to the ultimate catastrophe, she doesn’t lose conviction of her newfound persona. The first of Guadagnino’s “Desire” trilogy never skips a beat in experimenting with the boundaries that have long withheld family conventions and norm.
SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT
dir. Spike Lee / 1986
“It’s really about control: my body, my mind.”
Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Jones), a graphic artist living in Brooklyn, simultaneously dates three starkly different men: Greer Childs (John Canada Terrell) is a narcissistic actor who solely appreciates Nola’s presence for arm candy. Mars Blackman (Spike Lee) is a man-child whose excessive braggadocio is forgiven by his naive, generous heart. And Jamie Overstreet’s (Tommy Redmond Hicks) emotional maturity surpasses those of other men, but his fears of loneliness highlight his hidden vulnerability. Darling becomes the subject of these three’s affections, but never does she easily settle for one. The suspense of the film is enhanced by humorous twists and turns as Childs, Blackman and Overstreet court Darling. None of the lovers fight but instead battle Darling for herself. When they attempt to assuage her strong-willed character, we can’t help but feel bad for their desperateness. In a heart-wrenching scene, we see Darling is chastised for being so free with her body, but throughout the film we discover that she has yet to unleash more than just her flesh. If it weren’t for her trio of admirers, her defined mindset may not have changed for the better. Just as Darling is the sole heroine of the film, credit is due to Childs, Blackman and Overstreet for their cartoonish ways. They drive the story with all their peculiar tendencies, making each scene funnier than the last. Whether it’s calling her up at midnight to demand she exercise more or setting up an elaborate dance performance on her birthday, they each provoke and excite Darling beyond her standards. Despite a small budget for production (only $175,000!), Lee was able to make a film that defies any preconceptions of being an indie. The director’s father’s sensuous, jazzy score deserves to be an album itself! Lee’s satirical look at modern love comically highlights a woman’s unconventional lures and journey in finding “the one.” The story’s multi-dimensional characters and genuine take on daily universal problems have made “She’s Gotta Have It” an early-21st-century classic.
LA CITTÀ DELLE DONNE
dir. Federico Fellini / 1980
“Why do you go prying in a world that does not belong to you?”
“La Città delle Donne” (“City of Women”) navigates the pseudorealism of man’s worst fear and greatest dream: a city of women. When Snàporaz (Marcello Mastroianni) meets an attractive lady on a train, he is immediately mystified by her charm. He follows her every chance he gets, even when she stops at an earlier station and confidently marches into a forest abyss. As infinite as the woodland appears, he finally reaches a hotel hosting a feminist conference. Being the lone man in a building full of sexually enraged women urges Snàporaz to find the train girl, only to realize she has ridiculed him in front of hundreds of females. What Snàporaz doesn’t know is that his only way out is through a labyrinth of obstacles challenging his conceptions of women, second-wave feminism and sexuality. “La Cità delle Donne” is surreal, eccentric and never wanes off the director’s imagination. Misogyny and sexism season many instances where women are positioned as male toys readily available for a man’s pleasure. But the women dominate the story: They feed Snàporaz’s delusion and mock excessive machismo. In one scene, we see young girls roller skate around him in circles until he faints of vertigo. In another more bizarre, we see Snàporaz before a jury as if charged of crime, being questioned about his attitude and sexual habits by a group of ladies. “La Cità delle Donne” is a harrowing odyssey, for its fantasies never cease to confuse the characters and viewers alike. Considered one of Fellini’s most substandard films, it excessively splurges on sexual and erotic bravado but barely makes a substantial case for the feminist platform. It does, however, make a great case for the far lengths of desires and the inherent delusions shadowing them.
words_sharon beriro design_jess morgan